Three Washington teens have been slapped with felony charges over marijuana possession, the Associated Press reports.The teens could spend five years in jail for the crime. Previously, possession of marijuana by a minor was considered a misdemeanor in Washington state, and could lead to no more than 90 days in jail. The Lewiston Tribune reports that the harsh reaction is, essentially, due to a mistake:
A provision in a Washington law that makes it a felony for anyone younger than 21 to possess marijuana is an "unintended consequence," according to a representative from Gov. Jay Inslee's office… Asotin County Prosecutor Ben Nichols said language in Senate bill 5052 stipulates that the level of offense for a minor caught with pot is now a felony, and three teens, ages 14, 15 and 17, have been charged so far.
Recreational marijuana is legal in Washington, and the market may be expanding, but the state still has strict controls on the drug. In this case, the bill that stipulates a felony charge for minor possession, SB 5052, is a medical marijuana law. The resulting felony rules are built in as a way to try to deter minors from using pot. That law saw criticism from the get-go. Bill sponsor Senator Ann Rivers said in May that, "the moment I introduced this legislation almost three years ago, my office phones lit up. Those who had been making their living – and a very good living at that – preying on those who relied on medical marijuana for relief, as well as providing children with unfettered access to marijuana, mounted a vicious campaign to paint me as the anti-patient lawmaker." She added, “My goals all along were for legitimate patients to have a safe, clean and adequate supply of their product, to keep our children from having easy access to marijuana and to eliminate the black and gray markets that pose a threat to Washington."
But Leafly described the law as a strike against patients:
This law is aimed at reconciling the generally unregulated medical marijuana industry and folding it into the existing, tightly-controlled recreational market. It has been widely criticized by patients for significantly reducing their possession limits from 24 ounces down to three ounces, as well as limiting the number of plants they can grow from 15 down to 6.
We have a feeling there's going to be a whole new set of criticisms of the law now.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.